‘The hospital didn’t help me’ An infectious disease specialist from southern Russia recounts her forced resignation during the coronavirus pandemic
In the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, located in Southern Russia, a number of residents who spoke out about the actual scale of the region’s coronavirus outbreak came under pressure from the authorities. A criminal case was launched against the hosts of the program “Cherny Kub” (Black Cube), after they revealed the underreporting of coronavirus statistics in Karachay-Cherkess. In the nearby city of Stavropol, a wheelchair-bound woman by the name of Anna Dargan had her computer equipment seized — security officials suspected that she was running an opposition Instagram account called “Politika09.” Meanwhile, Leila Batchayeva, the head infectious disease specialist for Karachay-Cherkessia’s Karachaevsk district, came under twice the pressure. Security officials summoned her for interrogation several times, and she was forced to quit her job after speaking with Meduza and a few other media outlets and bloggers about the coronavirus pandemic. In her own words, Leila Batchayeva tells Meduza about the circumstances surrounding her resignation.
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During the pandemic we worked around the clock. Naturally, there was neither personnel, nor medicines or technical support. Those who were able did what they could on their own. After two months, the issue of payments for those who worked with [COVID-19 patients] was overdue. My employees were paid nothing, my pay was minimal. I [went] to the head doctor and demanded payments for everyone, plus medicines and personal protective equipment. I got a rude, coarse answer.
That same day the head doctor came to my department. At the time I was in the CT room and he tried to record me as absent from work. He wrote me up, it was later revoked.
Two weeks later, I came down with covid myself. The hospital didn’t help me. On the contrary, they carried out secret plots. They called the district doctor in for questioning and asked her directly: Why did you grant her sick leave? Did you watch her? Did you listen to her? As a result, they managed to write me up for skipping work from May 15 to June 30, 2020, until the end of [my] sick leave. I have this paper with the head doctor’s signature and stamp. They, of course, know that I had a covid infection, because Rospotrebnadzor notifies them. All of this information is open and accessible. My sick leave ended without [anyone] notifying me. This was only corrected after threats from the court.
I decided to resign. I can’t fight constantly, just to get reprimand after reprimand for whatever reason — I’m sorry, is this even work? But resigning wasn’t easier either, because the head doctor wanted to bring me up on charges. This is his usual way of [taking] revenge on people who go against him. For the publicity, for the interview on [local blogger] Ruslan Kurbanov’s live stream, and with human rights defender Alexander Babushkin, and with Meduza. And for the payments, as well. He’s used to acting this way. We haven’t had a [case where] someone achieved something by fighting with him. Everything is smoothed out through threats, reprisals, and dismissals. And people are intimidated, because many [of them] are elderly, there’s nowhere else to go work.
On June 30, people who wanted to support me came to the hospital: representatives of the Narodny Front [a watchdog organization from Karachaevsk], my former patients, doctors. Someone called the government in Cherkessk — allegedly something was brewing.
Finally, they approved my resignation, and gave me [my] employment record. Only they never issued the payment for an occupational disease.
In July, I was called to the Investigative Committee several times. They didn’t notify [me] of the summons, they just called — because of the audio recording that aired on the programme Cherny Kub. A criminal case for knowingly disseminating false information was opened against its authors. In the interview with Cherny Kub, I spoke about my district specifically, where I worked as the department head, — about the fact that I submitted one [set of] information, while another went to the statistics for the republic. The presenter suggested that the statistics for all of Karachay-Cherkess could be underestimated, like in the Karachaevsk district. I didn’t say that.
On Friday (July 10), I gave a statement at the department for combating extremism, three or four days later I was at the Investigative Committee. No one threatened me, but both times they asked me to give them my phone. They said that forensics had to examine it. But what for, if I’m only a witness? My personal information is on there. I wrote a refusal twice. I wasn’t given copies of the protocols, they cited the fact that this [would] disclose the secrets of the investigation.
Now the infectious disease department where I was in charge is generally closed because there’s no one to work there. The head doctor called the head nurse, who was in quarantine during the pandemic because of her age, she’s 64 years old. And another nurse, who is pregnant, had to work the night shift. I said that this didn’t comply with any legal norms at all. Then the head nurse asked the head doctor: how can you keep us here, when there are no junior personnel, no nurses’ aides, or any other shifts? Who will replace them? He agreed that it would be easier to close the department. There is no longer an infectious disease service, everything is fine, no one is sick with anything, no one needs help.
On top of that, August is coming, the peak for infectious diseases linked to the [gastrointestinal tract]. The number of referrals for covid has decreased, but [other diseases] also exist. The seriously ill are taken to the republican center in Cherkessk. The rest sit in silence until they get worse.
Translation by Eilish Hart